Lots of folks are turning to podcasting these days, and when I say ‘these days’ I’m referring to quarantine. Some are doing it because they’ve wanted to for a while and didn’t have the time until now. Others because they have nothing else to do. Whether you’re the latter or the former, go for it. However there may be a bit more to putting together a professional and successful podcast than you think. The good thing about podcasting, is that the skills and presentation are always evolving, so don’t think you have to get it perfect the first time. It’s like any other venture – slow but constant progression. Having said that, here are a few tips that might make that progression a little less slow.
Note that for the sake of brevity, I won’t be delving too deep into the technical stuff. This is more to give you an overview of the necessary tasks, and to get you pointed in the right direction.
Get the Gear
If you’re in quarantine, hopefully you already have some of it. Ideally you should at least have a microphone, an interface, and a computer. If not, ordering gear may be an option. Of course, money is a bit tight for most of us these days. If that’s the case, you can probably start with your laptop mic or even your phone.
That’s the hardware. Now what about the software? If you don’t currently have any recording software, you might start somewhere simple like Audacity. It’s a pretty straightforward program and it’s free.
In times of social distancing, you’ll need to find communication tools for remote discourse. Fortunately there are several options (audio and video), many of which are free.
Find the Right Space
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have the right room. In any kind of recording, one of the most crucial elements that takes it over the line from amateur to professional is the sound of the space. Hard, flat surfaces tend to reflect sound, which causes reverb or room tone, which can be very unpleasant to the listener. Think of how a voice sounds in a church or bathroom. It’s very hollow and busy. It takes time for the sound of your voice to stop travelling. Now think of the sound of your voice in a library or furniture store. They tend to have a very small, intimate sound. This is what you want. Of course, you’re most likely limited to your own living space right now, but there are ways you can work with it. Start by finding the quietest room in your space. Make sure you won’t be interrupted by machine noise or exterior sound. Of course, the quiet room may still be subject to room tone. If that’s the case, you can augment the aural space by softening hard surfaces. Put a rug down. Hang some blankets. Some people have great success using closets. Once you think you’ve got your room sounding nice and small, check it using your headphones. If you check using speaker monitors you could just be playing your noisy room back into your noisy room, resulting in a distorted perception of the room’s actual sound. Headphones will isolate the sound and give you a clearer perspective.
Find a Subject
Most podcasts are built around a particular subject, and it can be very difficult to do a whole series of talks around a subject if you’re not particularly interested in it. So ask yourself what gets you the most excited. Some of us have that level of fandom or fervor toward a subject where if we can’t talk about it all the time we feel like we might explode. If there’s something that excites you in this way, that might be a good place to start. If you find that subject is already taken by another podcast, there may be an opportunity to specialize in a related subject or a sub-genre.
“Look for a gap in the market, then determine if there is a market in the gap.”
-Terry O’Reilly, This I Know
Find Other People
You could do a one-person show, but you’ll produce a much better show (and you’ll be much happier doing it) if you work with other people. Find people who share your love and/or interest for the subject matter. And don’t be afraid to go beyond your own circle. If you find the right people, they’ll be easy to convince. They might be more excited about being on your podcast than you.
If you plan to go big with this someday, it may also help to find partners who can deal with sales and distribution (more on that soon).
Prep Your Guest(s)
For more on this, check out the previous blog.
It’s great to have an element of spontaneity. When done right, it makes things a bit more exciting, both for you and your listener. What isn’t good is sounding like you’re winging the whole thing. Your listener isn’t stupid. They can tell if you’re unprepared, and the last thing you want is for your listener to feel like you’re wasting their time. They can move on to something else pretty quickly and easily.
Before you hit record, have a route mapped in your head (or on paper). Figure out approximately where you want to start, where you want to go, how you’re going to get there, and how you’re going to get back. Just be ready to take a few detours on the way.
This was also in the previous blog, but it deserves repeating.
Assume your listener can see right through you. Don’t try to be funny if you’re not funny. Don’t try to be high-energy if you’re a more laid back person. If you have enough interest and enthusiasm in what you’re doing, create a format, environment, and flow that allow those qualities to shine. Honesty is always best. It’s how genuine connection is made. And speaking of connection…
Talk to One Person
Part of what makes podcasting great is its intimacy. A good podcast will make you feel like you’re almost part of the conversation even though you’re not actually involved. When you talk to your listener, be sure to talk to them, and not a faceless mass of people. YouTubers are the worst for this. How many YouTube videos have you seen that begin with the words ‘Hey guys!’? My guess is all of them. Most YouTube viewing is done independently. Addressing the masses not only removes any sense of intimacy, but it can also sound a bit arrogant. Podcast listening is even more of an individual experience. If you want to build a relationship with your audience, talk to one person.
The Finishing Touches
After you’ve recorded, you might want to add a bit of polish before you release it to the masses. To start, this might include some editing. Even if the session went well, you still want to be respectful of your listener’s time. This might mean removing some awkward pauses, redundant speech, or irrelevant content. Sometimes you’ll also find that parts of the conversation that felt fun at the time of recording might not be as fun when you listen back with objectivity.
You may also want to apply some dynamics processing, AKA compression. Essentially this is where you make the loud parts quiet, and the quiet parts loud. It makes the voices feel more full and easier to listen to, and subsequently more professional. If you’ve never compressed a voice before, it might help to do a little research. Your software may also have some useful presets to get you started.
This isn’t necessarily my forté, but once your podcast is produced, you need a way to get it out. Fortunately there are a wealth of streaming platforms out there. Some of the platforms that we use include Spotify, Apple, GooglePlay, Stitcher, Tune In, iHeart Radio, and SoundCloud. If that sounds a bit overwhelming, there is a way to simplify it. Try using RSS. From here you can upload your podcast to a single platform and have it distributed to others.
Listen to Other Podcasts
Not to imitate, of course, but it can be inspiring and validating to get a sense of how more established (and successful) podcasts conduct themselves. Look up the top podcasts and listen to a few. Listen for the format, flow, tone, and preproduced sound elements.
One of the best ways to build a relationship with your audience is frequency. Whether you produce a podcast every month, week, or even every day, make sure they know when to expect a new entry from you. Again, producing a podcast can be very much like a business venture. Expect to play the long game if you want to be successful, but keep working at it, keep improving, and above all, have fun.
Pictured above clockwise from top left: Oakridge Ave guitarist Sean Patterson, podcast host John Sanfilippo, K-Rock 105.7 on-air personality Eilish Sullivan, singer/songwriter Logan Brown